Hi there, you productivity factory! 😀
(if not being it yet – you will, right after this post! 😉 )
Let me ask you a question first.
When do you consider yourself to be super-productive?
a) when you complete an insane number of tasks in a day?
b) when you complete the right tasks – even though it might be only a single to-do item in a day?
(I’ll soon explain what I mean by “the right tasks”)
Now, for the record, productivity can be viewed in either of these ways.
How much free time (and energy!) you’ll have in a day, or at what pace you’ll be approaching to your goal, and even how good you’ll feel about yourself will strongly depend on how you perceive and practice productivity.
I know, I know… You may be thinking “Wait! What are you saying, N?
Now you’re mentioning free time, energy, goals…”
Well my friend, as you’ll soon see, it’s all related to productivity.
If you load yourself with numerous tasks day in and day out and spend almost every waking moment working on them…
Yes, you may consider yourself to be highly productive.
But, you’re also on a sure path to a burnout – sooner or later you’ll feel exhausted, with no free time in a day, and yes… you’ll hardly feel really good about yourself.
(where is the work-life balance there, right?)
So, yes, productivity IS about getting the work done, but it is also about doing impactful work.
The one which will help you move the needle in the right direction and help you get closer to your goals.
That way you’ll build a life you want to have (instead of living reactively and responding to external events as they come by) and be far more satisfied with the way you’re spending your time.
The best thing?
To truly use the power of productivity, you only need to know (and apply) three components.
Ready to meet them?
Here they are!
What is important to me?
Since productivity is about work and the tasks being done the most effective way, to answer this question you should discover what work is important (or the most meaningful) to you, so you can focus on it first.
And of course, neither I nor anybody else can tell you out of the blue what that is.
Depending on your responsibilities, your priorities, and the goals you’ve set, you’ll need to figure it out on your own.
But, since I don’t want to leave you in the dark with this one, here are some directions to get a clearer path.
- What are my goals?
If by any chance, you still didn’t set goals, it’s about time to create some.
Why, you may ask?
Setting goals and working towards their achievement is by far the best way to create the life you want to have.
They help you live your life proactively, according to your values, personality, desires…
Don’t fall into the trap and work (only) for someone else’s dreams.
And when it comes to productivity, by having a goal you’ll already have a pretty good sense of what is important on your to-do list.
- How can I make the biggest impact on X at this moment?
You may know your goal, but (as you’re probably already well aware of) it may consist of a number of tasks which compete for priority.
How to pick the most important one to start with it first?
Try answering this question to get this problem solved.
- Is there an order or sequence of tasks which need to be followed through?
If there are a number of tasks which can be ranked in a sequence of events, it becomes more obvious what item will be the first one you’ll start working on.
- If I could do only one thing in a day to move forward, what would it be?
This question is paramount if you’re in a time crunch.
But even if you’re not (and, lucky you, if I may say), pretend this one applies to you.
This is truly an excellent approach to determine your most important tasks.
Once you’re clear on your important tasks, you’re one step closer to being a productivity-champ.
Let’s continue further…
What is urgent?
This should be a no-brainer, it’s something it should be done as soon as possible.
We all agree on that, right?
But, what are the tasks and events which deserve to be classified as urgent?
(and I mean, really urgent!)
For an interesting view on this topic (with handy solutions on how to handle the “urgent” work tasks), click here.
Wrapping it up
So, by now you have your important and your urgent items.
It’s time for the last part of the formula.
How these pieces get together?
This is where a productivity matrix (aka the Eisenhower matrix) comes into play.
And – what might that be?
I’m pretty sure you’re already aware of it, but just in case, let’s make it clear once more.
Meet your new best (productivity) friend – the productivity matrix!
Productivity matrix is a simple, yet very powerful chart, which helps you organize your tasks and makes decision making super-easy.
It’s nothing else but a simple two-by-two table, leaving the four fields (or boxes) for you to fill out.
In those 4 boxes, you group the tasks which are:
- important & urgent
- important & not urgent
- not important & urgent
- not important & not urgent
To sum it up – all your tasks and anything (or everything) else you spend your time on is placed inside these four fields, based on their importance and urgency.
There’s one catch, though – if you want to be truly productive, you need to know which fields to focus on, where you can “cut corners”, and what tasks you can completely ignore (without feeling any guilt!).
And that’s often the part at which many “fail”.
But, that won’t be the case with you, dear!
Because luckily, I’m offering you a helping hand to instantly get it right. 😉
How your productivity matrix may look like – the first encounter
Have you created your own productivity matrix yet?
If this system is new to you, you’ve never tried it before, and you’re starting from scratch, or perhaps you’re struggling to clear out the weed that ruins your perfect productivity garden (if you understand what I mean…), your productivity matrix will probably look something like this:
- Field 1: Important & Urgent
This is the place where the important and should-be-done-by-yesterday things lie.
You have a couple of items here (or maybe a bit more), and all are so terrifying!
I know… cold sweat flushes over you just at a site of this field!
You get stomach cramps as well… And it’s no wonder!
The tasks in this field scream “You have got to do us first”!
And they’re right.
Your reaction: stressing out whether you’ll get the job(s) done on time.
(No need to say that having this field almost always full of various tasks can even cause health problems in the long run…)
- Field 2: Important & Not Urgent
This is the place which holds all of those important but not urgent tasks.
A number of things might be on your list in this field, but no matter what they are, most of the time you’ll be like “OK… These are not urgent. I’ll get to them later.”
The problem is – these tasks rarely do get on your agenda… until they become urgent and therefore move to field #1, that is.
- Field 3: Not Important & Urgent
Usually, this field is the one that guides our actions and dominates our plans right after Field 1.
The “urgency” part is the one which gives him that power.
But, that is also the key factor which tricks us to play by its rules.
We somehow tend to put aside the fact that this field is also “not important”.
And this can hurt good time management and productivity in a significant amount!
- Field 4: Not Important & Not Urgent
This field contains activities (I wouldn’t call them tasks) that have no greater purpose but to exist for themselves.
They’re just taking your time without giving you any significant value.
Like, checking out the social media, watching television, making long phone calls (without any meaningful point)…
You might be shocked by how many “tasks” appear in this box of productivity matrix.
Therefore if you’re in a time crunch (or you just value your time – what you, by all means, should), this field is the first place to go to and start ditching the things which lie here.
You know, the things which you actually won’t miss at all (believe me!).
How a productivity matrix should look like in a perfect world (or, how to rock your productivity matrix)
I’ve already stated “in a perfect world”, so don’t be discouraged if your productivity matrix doesn’t look like this after some time.
(or after any time, as a matter of fact!)
Life is… well, life.
Running late with projects, wrong estimates of the time needed to get the job done, the messy things, sudden distractions, and countless other stuff happen almost on a daily basis.
Therefore – relax, and simply try to be as close to this look as possible.
What’s that look? Here it is.
- Field 1
It would be perfect to be … can you guess?
Of course, even if you succeed in it, there will be times when the important and urgent tasks will appear out of the blue.
Just limit it to the things which are sudden and for which you have no previous knowledge.
(such as sudden health issues, home & personal emergencies…, the things you cannot control or foresee)
- Field 2
This is the place where the primary focus should be.
It should contain all the important tasks you’re aware of, so you can plan them out and fulfill on time, stress-free.
- Field 3
Should have a minimal (ideally zero!) number of tasks in it.
Think it’s hard or next to impossible to accomplish it?
Well…there are ways for fixing this area, and I’ll discuss them, just not in here; it’s a whole new topic…
- Field 4
You think I will say to have this one empty also?
Well, not quite.
It depends on your point of view.
We all have some little things which we love doing, that maybe have no bigger meaning, but they mean to us.
Such as watching a purposeless TV show; drinking coffee while staring through the window (like half of the hour!)…
Even though they seem like total time-wasters if such kinds of stuff serve you to recharge and get back on track, you should, by all means, count them in.
Now, you may put them in this field, or if you consider them to be important (for the reasons stated above), you can move them to the Field 2.
Just remember, limit these events to some reasonable amount…
Otherwise, they’ll drown you, and you won’t get anything else done.
So, let’s recap! What is it you MUST KNOW?
- The matrix itself, of course!
- The Urgent, and
- The Important parts of the matrix.
Start off by filling out your productivity matrix.
The next step you need to take in order to be more … (yes! you’ve guessed it!) PRODUCTIVE is to eliminate (for good!) the tasks in Field 1, clear out the tasks in Field 3 and ignore the things in Field 4, so you could truly dig in the important stuff – the Field 2.
How to do it?
Well, that’s a whole new story…